Don Chaney, whose status as coach of the Clippers is as shaky as his team's recent play, has been given a week to turn things around or he will be fired, sources said Monday.
That decision was reached late Saturday night in the Sports Arena office of General Manager Carl Scheer after the Clippers' 22-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. It was the Clippers' 17th loss in the last 20 games and their seventh lopsided defeat in the last 11.
Alan Rothenberg, team president, told Scheer Saturday night that he wanted the club to make a coaching change immediately. Later, owner Donald T. Sterling unexpectedly walked into the office and, according to Scheer, the men discussed Chaney's status for about 15 minutes.
Talks continued Sunday, and Scheer apparently convinced Rothenberg and Sterling to wait a week before making a move. The Clippers will play host to Golden State Wednesday and San Antonio Friday, then will travel Saturday to Sacramento. Guard Derek Smith, who has been recuperating from arthroscopic surgery to remove torn knee cartilage, should return for all three games.
Chaney said Monday that he hasn't asked about his job security recently and isn't worrying about it.
But team captain Marques Johnson said that firing Chaney would be "purely a scapegoat move" by the franchise.
"My feeling is, they are just giving him enough rope to hang himself," Johnson said. "It's tough for anyone to coach with all the chaos that has gone on here this year and before."
Rothenberg could not be reached Monday, and Sterling does not talk to reporters. Scheer, however, confirmed that Chaney's status is not secure. He also said that club executives will meet again next weekend to evaluate the team's progress and Chaney's performance.
"That (one week) timetable is not etched in stone, but that's what we're looking at," Scheer said. "What the situation is, is this: Let's give him a chance with Derek back in the lineup. We aren't going to fire Chaney today or tomorrow. We want to see how the team plays with Derek back."
What will it take in the next three days to save Chaney's job?
"I don't want to say that if he doesn't win one or two of the three games or cut the margin (of defeat) that he's out," Scheer said. "Donald, Alan and I will sit down in a week and evaluate the team. It's the perfect time to do it. We have a break in the schedule."
According to Scheer, Saturday night's executive meeting was cordial but there was some disagreement.
"After the game, everyone was upset," Scheer said. "Alan was more definite about what he wanted to do than I. He thinks the situation is more desperate. We talked about firing the coach, but we all agreed that wasn't the time or the place to make the decision.
"It surprised both me and Alan when Mr. Sterling walked in. He was upset. We all were. We talked about it."
Although Scheer would not discuss possible successors if Chaney is fired, it is believed that the Clippers would hire an interim coach to finish the season, then look for a full-time coach before next season.
"I'd not give a long-term deal if we brought someone in," Scheer said. "We'd want to start fresh next season. But we're getting ahead of ourselves."
Among the candidates Clipper executives have privately considering are former NBA coach Tom Nissalke, former Houston Rocket Coach Del Harris, Phoenix assistant Al Bianchi and Clipper assistant Don Casey.
Scheer has already expressed interest in hiring Larry Brown, now at the University of Kansas, for next season. Brown coached for Scheer with the Carolina Cougars of the old ABA and later with the Denver Nuggets.
Scheer admits he would like to have Brown. "But so would a lot of other people," he said. "Larry listens to every offer he gets, and he gets a lot."
Chaney, meanwhile, has closed practice to outsiders all week and reportedly is working the players hard. He said Monday that he "doesn't want to ask" about his job.
"I just have to coach," he said. "Whether it's a day, a week, a month or a year. I'm worried about winning games. It's not the record, it's the margin (of defeat). You put together a couple of wins and you're right back in it. I've been around the NBA a long time and I see it a lot."
Johnson said the players are behind Chaney. The same could not be said for their feeling for the Clipper front office.
"We all know he's under the gun, and I hate to see that type of pressure on him," Johnson said. "I really don't think that anyone could coach under this situation. Norm (Nixon) was a month late because of his contract. Benoit was a couple weeks late. The franchise doesn't make you want to play for them."
Johnson has had strong feelings about management since the club tried to rescind last year's trade and send him back to Milwaukee. He says it is difficult for Clipper players who have disagreements with management, such as himself and Nixon.